Mar 06

Often when doing image processing we need to change the color of the image pixels. This ultimately involves iterating through all the pixels of an image changing values as required. This can be a slow process, especially for large images.

When you want to change all pixels of one colour to another then you can avoid iterating over the entire image by instead changing the ColorModel. The ColorModel specifies the mapping between pixel values and their color. Changing this mapping allows us to change the color of pixels without manipulating the actual pixel value.

The following gives a simple example to demonstrate the concept by changing the ColorModel of the displayed images as the mouse is moved over it.

import java.awt.event.MouseEvent;
import java.awt.event.MouseMotionListener;
import java.awt.image.BufferedImage;
import java.awt.image.ColorModel;
import java.awt.image.DataBuffer;
import java.awt.image.DataBufferByte;
import java.awt.image.IndexColorModel;
import java.awt.image.Raster;
import java.awt.image.SampleModel;
import java.awt.image.SinglePixelPackedSampleModel;
import java.awt.image.WritableRaster;

import javax.swing.ImageIcon;
import javax.swing.JFrame;
import javax.swing.JLabel;

public class ImageExample extends JLabel
	implements MouseMotionListener {

	private BufferedImage image = createImage();
	public ImageExample() {
		setIcon(new ImageIcon(image));

	public void mouseMoved(MouseEvent e) {
		// here we want to change the color model
		// to do that we create a new image using a new color model
		// nb. there is no need to change the source pixels
		image = new BufferedImage(createColorModel(e.getX()), 
				image.getRaster(), false, null);
		setIcon(new ImageIcon(image));

	public void mouseDragged(MouseEvent e) {

	private static BufferedImage createImage() {

		int width = 200;
		int height = 200;
		// Generate the source pixels for our image
		// Lets just keep it to a simple blank image for now
		byte[] pixels = new byte[width * height];
		DataBuffer dataBuffer = new DataBufferByte(pixels, width*height, 0);
		SampleModel sampleModel = new SinglePixelPackedSampleModel(
        	DataBuffer.TYPE_BYTE, width, height, new int[] {(byte)0xf});
		WritableRaster raster = Raster.createWritableRaster(
			sampleModel, dataBuffer, null);

		return new BufferedImage(createColorModel(0), raster, false, null);

	private static ColorModel createColorModel(int n) {

		// Create a simple color model with all values mapping to
		// a single shade of gray
		// nb. this could be improved by reusing the byte arrays
		byte[] r = new byte[16];
		byte[] g = new byte[16];
		byte[] b = new byte[16];

		for (int i = 0; i < r.length; i++) {
			r[i] = (byte) n;
			g[i] = (byte) n;
			b[i] = (byte) n;
		return new IndexColorModel(4, 16, r, g, b);

	public static void main(String[] args) {

		JFrame frame = new JFrame();
		frame.add(new ImageExample());

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